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Wednesday, April 6, 2022

100 Years of Radio in Shreveport

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GloryFest ‘22 to honor radio legend Larry Ryan

A glance back 100 years ago to the start of the period now regarded as “The Roaring Twenties” found America enthralled with a radical new form of entertainment. It brought musical performances and news of the day right into their homes, something called “wireless telephony” that we would soon know simply as radio. Shreveport caught the radio bug and never let go.

On April 22, 1922, a 10-watt radio station, the 114th one assigned in the nation, took to the airwaves in Shreveport on a Friday night to afford the best possible chance the broadcast would be heard over the problem of static interference that had yet to be adequately dealt with. Percy and Sid Elliott, the owners of the Elliott Electric Company located at 517 Spring St., had recognized the coming craze and valued a station as a means to sell more radio sets, so they partnered with local radio expert William Erwin Antony in the creation of WAAG. Antony had been the dominant amateur in the wireless field since receiving a set for his tenth birthday in the fall of 1907, and he was well versed in the country’s fast unfolding radio network.

“It’s a great game, and we get lots of enjoyment out of our radio phone,” young Willie told the local news when they wrote of his amateur station 5ZS back in 1916. He would take to the airwaves at night from his home on Laurel Street (near what is now the intersection of I-49 and I-20) and read the newspaper or telegrams out into the ether to whoever might be listening. Soon, a giant radio tower dwarfed his parents’ home, standing guard like today’s greedy cell phone tower. Antony established more than two dozen stations in town, including the South’s most popular station at the time, KWKH. The station blanketed the country in the years leading up to the Depression with unauthorized power that earned our city listener response cards from Hawaii and regulation from the government aimed specifically at station owner Will K. Henderson with the creation of the FCC, in large part, to regulate him.

In retrospect, an Arbor Day message from the Secretary of Agriculture wasn’t exactly the dramatic kick-off one might expect on that April eve in 1922. Still, in that day and age, it was heralded as “the most widespread radio distribution of a single message” in history, a noteworthy syndication in sync with stations all across America that Shreveport was honored to join.

This month we celebrate 100 years of radio progress from that broadcast, and Shreveport can proudly lay claim to a number of firsts – the first churchowned station, KFDX, at First Baptist; the first use of two turntables to fade from one song to the next (club mixologists, take note!); the first station to broadcast electronically directly from the needle and the first station to sell on-air products directly to the consumer. And in the 200 block of Texas Street, an old inventor transplanted to our city from Ohio patented the 10-record stack spindle for turntables.

On April 23, this invaluable and largely unheralded history will be honored at GloryFest ’22, an all-day music festival honoring veterans hosted by The Cuddy Family Foundation for Veterans (www. tcffv.org). The festival will be held at The Lot with the induction of Shreveport broadcasting legend Larry Ryan as this year’s Veteran Legend Award recipient. If anyone knows about Shreveport radio, it’s the man who started on the air here at KEEL radio in 1964 and has been serving the community ever since as our own Casey Kasem. An Air Force veteran, Larry will be honored for his years of service in the military and his 58 years in radio, just in Shreveport. Larry is with KLKL now, but his former station, KEEL, descends directly from Centenary’s little 10-watt WDAN, and KWKH descends from WGAQ, and they’re both among the oldest in the country. Pretty awesome all these years later. And to think, without WAAG, there might not have been KWKH, and no Louisiana Hayride, which could have meant no Hank Williams, Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash. Something to celebrate, Shreveport!

GloryFest ’22 starts at noon on Saturday, April 23, at The Lot at 400 Crockett St. Larry Ryan’s induction will commence at 3:30, just blocks from where it all began. I think it is only appropriate to have the studio microphone from KWKH that Hank recorded his morning show and last song on and Elvis demoed. Dale Hawkins recorded “Suzy Q” with young James Burton on guitar and will be on hand and in use to celebrate the man who got us more than halfway through the history of radio in Shreveport, Larry Ryan.

ON STANDS NOW!

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